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Debate #6: Cellphones- Do they have a place in our classrooms?

Cellphones. Likely the world’s most used tool, but it’s place in our classrooms is a continual debate. I’ve used just about every cellphone rule I’ve heard of over my 6 years of teaching, with yet to find one that I have 100% confidence in.

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I’ve taught grade 8 for a number of years now, and cellphones have been more common each and every year. I’ve had all out bans, had many surrendered to my desk drawer, taken several to the office, had phone baskets, and wall ‘hotels.’  I eventually evolved and in the last few years have attempted to teach responsible use, taking a much more relaxed stance on them. I’ve had varying success with all, yet haven’t found one set of rules that I am happy and confident with.

Coincidentally, eighth grade was the same time I got my first cell phone. I bring this up, because I remember the excitement, and comfort that middle school students feel, knowing they are connected to their friends and family. This isn’t even mentioning the ability of having a device that allows you to tap into the bulk of recorded information in human history. This being said, I certainly recognize many of the points Echo, Lovepreet, Amanpreet mentioned during their portion of the debate. It’s true, cell phones do distract a high majority of my students. I’ve dealt with numerous cases of cyberbullying, nearly all of which surrounded cell phone use. Screen time is a constant worry with our youth, and cellphones exasperate that greatly. They are extremely expensive, and the amount of broken or stolen phones that we deal with every year is far too high.

However, even with all of this being said, (I feel like a broken record at this point,) I feel that teaching personal responsibility and strong Digital Literacy Skills will allow students to engage in the many benefits that comes with having access to a device, while hopefully mitigating the negatives that I mentioned above.

As Bret, Reid, and Leona mentioned, our world has changed; technology is here for good and separating our student’s lives into a ‘connected’ world at home and a ‘disconnected’ world at school seems to go directly against 21st century teaching practices.

Technology is an integral part of life, and allowing them access to their devices (when it is appropriate to do so,) will mimic their lives after school. There are very few careers that have employees that are not available via phone, the internet, or social media, so why should our students be?

I could continue to push for why I believe that cellphones do have a place in the classroom, but I was quite impressed by one of the suggested viewings for this week, in which Sam Kerry discusses his feelings on utilizing cellphones in classrooms. Sam and I share thoughts on many points, including the increase in accessibility, the potential for interactive lessons, and creative uses that will explode in the future, such as augmented and virtual reality.

In my personal experience, not only does incorporating cell phones in the classroom give more (and sometimes more efficient) access to technology, it also has the potential to increase engagement with unique lesson design. Bring your own device programs are extremely beneficial in allowing schools and students to bridge that funding and access to technology gap. Teaching responsible use also instills trust in your students, most of which greatly appreciate that trust, and tend to abide by the expectations in most situations.

When positive digital citizenship skills are modelled and taught consistently to our students, I find the benefits of cell phone use in the classroom can greatly outweigh the negatives. (All of this being said, it would certainly be interesting if all school divisions could be funded in a way that would allow for one-to-one devices, possibly eliminating the need for this debate. But that is a discussion for another day!)

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